Botswana Safari

Old Aug 10th, 2009, 03:27 PM
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Botswana Safari

I just got back from 2 weeks in (mostly) Botswana. We were on a trip arranged by Island-Safari, and they did a great job. Everything ran smoothly and the camps were almost all great.

We flew from San Francisco and overnighted in London to recover from the 11 hour trip. Then we flew overnight on Virgin Atlantic to Johannesburg where we overnighted again. We did this because we had enough frequent flyer miles to get to London. If I were to buy a ticket I think I might fly on Delta (they have a direct flight to Johannesburg from Atlanta) or South African air from DC. London was great and I liked having some time off a plane, but psychologically the 4-day transit on either end made the trip seem a little more grueling than it actually was.

We stayed at the Safari Club in Johannesburg. It was a wonderful relaxing spot, but it's in an industrial neighborhood in a walled compound and we didn't feel comfortable walking around. So we had them arrange a tour of Soweto for us. It was a great tour and there were only the 2 of us in the van. I have forgotten the name of the company, but I'll look it up and post it later. Our guide did a great job of showing us around. We had him drop us at the Emporer's Palace, a casino by the airport. We looked around, but it wasn't as exciting as Vegas, so we grabbed some dinner and cabbed back to the Safari Club for drinks in the lovely upstairs bar and some badly-needed sleep.

We flew to Livingstone on British Air and spent the night at the much-maligned Zambezi Sun. It isn't a luxe safari lodge, but the location is sure something. Frankly, I loved the place. It's big and gaudy, but it's also a few steps from the falls. I especially liked the fact that they have their own entrance so you can look at the falls, wander off for a nap, come back and look at the falls some more, then go back in the morning and look at them again. I also liked walking around, something we knew we wouldn't be able to do on safari. We wandered up to the sister hotel, the Royal Livingstone and watched the sunset at the riverside bar. We especially enjoyed watching the monkeys stealing food right off the tables. I know they're pests, but they sure are cute. We were able to charge our drinks to our room, likewise the dinner we had at the Livingstone's dining room. (I've heard a lot of complaints about the dinner buffet at the Sun. The Livingstone serves a great dinner and it wasn't as expensive as the buffet.)

The next day we took off for Muchenje Lodge in Chobe park. The transfer company, Wild Horizons, did a fabulous job. They drove us to Kazungula, helped us through passport control, loaded us on a boat and met us on the other side where we were whisked through the border yet again. The whole crossing didn't take 10 minutes. They took us to the Kasane airport where the lodge picked us up.

Muchenje Lodge is pretty fabulous. We had a cabin with a small veranda overlooking the Chobe River. (We Californians love being up on a hill with a view, and this was the only hill we saw on our safari.) The lodge had several viewing platforms as well, and a pool that it was too cold to try. The food was simple, but good. The staff was really great, and the management was warm and friendly and helpful. We went on one night game drive, but I found it a little unsatisfying, getting a quick glimpse of animals scampering off as we shone a light on them. My favorite activity was the all-day drive, including a boat ride. We saw so many elephants that they almost got boring. We also saw giraffes, buffalo, warthogs, zebras, hippos, a lioness, varied and sundry antelopes and a whole lot of baboons.

After 2 nights we were driven to the Kasane airport where we flew to Deception Valley Lodge. There was only one other couple, so we really got the royal treatment. We went on a game drive with Gerard, one of the owners. He was incredibly well-informed about the desert, and his love of the Kalahari rubbed off on us. We didn't see the vast amounts of wildlife that we had seen at Chobe, but we got to see kudus visiting the watering hole, oryx, wildebeest, jackals, giraffes, a host of birds, and some really cute porcupines eating the camp's garbage. The high point was the walk with the bushmen. They were re-enacting arts they had learned from their fathers, making it like being in a living museum. We also got to have the bushmen as guides, riding in little chairs out in front of the vehicles. The food was impressive, easily the best on the trip, and the cabins were luxurious and large.

2 nights later we flew to Delta Camp, my favorite spot on the safari. They picked us up at the airstrip in a mokoro and poled us (about an hour) to camp. It was the most peaceful, serene experience imaginable. When we got to camp we were taken to our treehouse cabin. It was like being in a fairy tale. There were no generators (the camp is solar-powered), no motors, no man-made noise at all. We heard hippos, birds, frogs, and elephants shaking the trees. There were no game drives in trucks, just cruises in the mokoros and game walks. The only thing I didn't love was the bugs on the game walks. Our guide, Philemon, finally solved the problem by cutting sage switches for us to wave in front of our faces. He also took us to his village, where the local women all brought out their handmade baskets for us to buy. It was a bit awkward - they were all wonderful and we had a hard time choosing. We felt almost like we were judging a beauty contest. In retrospect, I wish we had bought more. They were the nicest souvenirs we saw on the trip.

I just can't say enough good things about Delta Camp. It's rustic - our treehouse was partially open the elements. We had a bird fly in about 5 AM and squawk loudly on top of our mosquito netting, and the elephants shaking the trees kept my husband awake, but I can't think of a better reason to wake up in the night.

Pom Pom Camp was our last stop. It was very nice, but it lacked the quirky charm of the previous 3 camps. We slept in a permanent tent with a nice veranda overlooking the rushes, and the food was almost as good as at DVL, and the staff was wonderful. I loved their dance performance one night. The game drives were pretty good, although nothing like Chobe. We got to see a leopard, which was very nice. I liked the first night, but on the second day a family with small children (6, 8 12) showed up. The parents left the kids unsupervised and they made an awful lot of noise, to the point of scaring off the birds. It ruined the serenity and peace we had been enjoying. I mentioned to the mother that her kids were making a lot of noise, and she told me that children do that. The management was not inclined to do anything about it, although a few of us complained. In fact, they seemed to be avoiding any confrontation by staying out of the public areas. I don't think I would go back to Pom Pom. I can't imagine not requiring parental supervision of small children. It put the kids in danger and annoyed the rest of the guests.


We had some things to do in Gaborone, so we flew there from Maun. We stayed at the Cresta President. It was fun being right on the mall, and we picked up some nice trinkets. If you stay there, be advised that they don't refill the breakfast buffet. Get there early. But the hotel was clean, even if they were a little stingy with the amenities (one packet of coffee a day, one shampoo for a 3-day stay). The location made it worthwhile.

We took the bus back to Johannesburg. It was a very pleasant ride and we were glad to see some of the countryside. The bus station in Johannesburg was hectic and maybe a tiny bit scary, but we clung to our bags and took a cab to the Courtyard in Rosebank. It's a lovely hotel, just across the street from the Rosebank Mall. There's a large area that is heavily patrolled so you can walk around safely. And the African crafts market was a great place to pick up some trinkets. Frankly, I'm not knocked out by Johannesburg. I don't like having to live in a gated community in order to feel safe. But it's where you have to go to catch your plane, and the Rosebank area was certainly a nice location to spend the night. We ate at Sophia's in the mall and it was delicious and inexpensive by US standards.

When we were planning the trip, we justified the expense by calling it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In the plane on the way home we were trying to figure out what we could sell so we can go back some day.

Lou
acprincess is offline  
Old Aug 10th, 2009, 03:58 PM
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Hi Lou,
Great to hear about your trip, sounds like you got the Africa bug! You'll be planning your next trip in no time.
I like the sound of Delta Camp. What did you see on your game walks?
Any photos to show us?
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Old Aug 11th, 2009, 12:25 PM
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I definitely got the Africa bug.

I put a few photos up on Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/acprinc...7622013032102/ - a word of warning, I take snapshots, not great photographs.

I also got the website for the guide in Johannesburg - www.sjftours.co.za
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Old Aug 11th, 2009, 12:54 PM
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Hello Lou
very good report!
I particularly like "We got to see a leopard, which was very nice" because many people travel to Africa to see just that
You can consider yourself quite blessed!

I am sure you will get back - sooner then you anticipate right now

SV
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Old Aug 11th, 2009, 02:51 PM
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I've spent over 20 nights out in the bush and I've never seen a leopard in a tree. Can't wait to go back to find one. I thought my trip of a lifetime was just once, too. Well, we just got back from our second trip of a lifetime and we're already planning the next one. We sold stuff, too!! Now what do I sell?

Lovely pics. Looks like you had a blast.
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Old Aug 12th, 2009, 08:39 AM
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Thanks for posting your report & beautiful photos! I will be staying at Muchenje in October and am thrilled to get a peek at the sightings and lodge, too
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Old Aug 12th, 2009, 11:31 AM
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Thanks - great photos.
Can you tell me a bit more about the game walks if you did them?
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Old Aug 12th, 2009, 12:45 PM
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Tockoloshe,

Our game walks at Delta were a tad buggy, but nice nonetheless (our guide finally solved the problem by cutting sage branches for us to use as fans.) We saw giraffes a couple of times, and a big herd of zebras thundering through the water. We also saw a herd of zebras by the village. We saw a few monkeys and some red lechwe. I'm not a birder, so I can't tell you the names of what we saw, but there were lots of them. Also a few of those tiny little frogs. Our best wildlife sightings at Delta Camp were from the lodge - elephants up close and personal, hippos in the lagoon, birds and monkeys.) I think that in general if you JUST want to see wildlife, you're better off going to a camp where they have game drives, because of the amount of ground you can cover in a van. I liked the walks because it gave me a sorely-needed chance to get some exercise, and the area is beautiful - it was nice to see it from the ground as well as from the water.

Lou
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Old Aug 12th, 2009, 03:15 PM
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Thanks Lou, that's useful info. We usually spend far too much time in a vehicle so like the idea of a walk and exercise even with fewer sightings - as you say it's nice to see things from a different perspective, and let's face it, there are a few things you'd rather NOT see when you're on foot!
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Old Aug 13th, 2009, 05:43 AM
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thanks for your report and photos.

I was in Botswana and Vic Falls in May/June. It was amazing to see the difference in your photo of the falls compared to mine. There was almost too much water falling when I was there.

And yes I too thought it would be my one and only trip but...

amy
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Old Aug 22nd, 2009, 06:25 AM
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The "snapshots" were lovely with the elephants plentiful, the porcupines devine (I've never gotten even a blurry snap of one of these fellows), and the Muchenje view is postcard-ready.

Sage branch fans as insect repellent--eco-friendly with an almost Victorian air.

You had a great itinerary and hopw you can return.
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